Raising my cup to Coffee with a Cop | Opinion

By John Hamer, For the Reporter

What am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? The Mercer Island Police Department, for one thing.

On Nov. 12, I attended a “Coffee With a Cop” gathering at the South End Starbucks and interviewed several police officers and staff. I started with Chief Ed Holmes, who has been with the MIPD since 1994. Here are some edited excerpts from my interviews:

With police being criticized nationwide, do you have community support? “We have overwhelmingly strong support from citizens and the city council. We already have people organizing to bring in a big Thanksgiving dinner to the station. Other communities don’t do that. We’re not perfect. We can make mistakes. But when we fall short and miss the mark, I want to hear about that. We need the community’s partnership. We’re in this together.”

How do our overall crime rates compare? “Crime does happen here, but we also have one of the lowest crime rates in the region. We are fortunate that we don’t have a lot of violent crime. Property crime, yes. But most of the people we arrest don’t live here. They come here to commit crimes. We want to make this an unattractive place to commit crime.”

Will the new Sound Transit Station have an impact? “I want a strong visible presence of officers in the area from the start, from Day 1. Not heavy handed, but a visible presence. We’ll start there and reassess. If you try to play catchup, it’s very difficult.”

Do you worry about school shootings? “It is always on my mind. I have 2 boys myself. In 1997, when I was School Resource Officer, a boy brought a gun to the high school just to show it off. That has lived with me for 25 years. We train for active shooter scenarios. We would go in right away.”

What about other venues? “We are currently working with the Jewish Community Center on preparing for any incidents. Antisemitism is an issue. I don’t want people to be paranoid, but I want them to be aware. We have good relationships with the JCC, the synagogues and Yeshiva School.”

Do people of color, including Asian Americans and African Americans, support MIPD? “If any issues come up, we want to hear about them. I want everyone to feel they are welcome here. Every police chief has an area of passion. Mine is public trust and making sure people think they are treated fairly. We want to treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

I also interviewed Kelly Robinson, who is in charge of the “Coffee With a Cop” sessions and also mentors younger officers. He has been with MIPD for 3 years. Raised in Kent, he’s a graduate of Kentridge High School and Central Washington University.

As an African American, do you feel welcome here? “Absolutely yes. Being a Black officer, I’m not treated any differently. Everywhere we go we’re getting waved at. It’s overwhelmingly supportive.”

Is homelessness an issue, like in Seattle? “We’re moving in the right direction by prohibiting camping in public places. No tents are allowed in our parks. Burglary, theft, drug use, etc. skyrocket when you allow that. People on the streets in Seattle often are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse and addictions. They need effective services. Some come here because they think they’ll get bigger handouts.”

How do you mentor younger officers? “I tell them that we are not here to get arrests, but to be there for the community. How can we help people when they need us? Be friendly to everyone. Be more receptive to the public, you will learn a lot. Talk to random people. I’m a big advocate of community policing. We are people, we’re not just robot cops. Humanizing the role is really important.”

Mercer Island resident John Hamer is a retired Seattle Times editorial writer and columnist, and co-founder of the Washington News Council. His first job was at The Oregon Journal in Portland, where he was police reporter. He has family members in law enforcement. Email: jhamer46@gmail.com.